Goa, India: Journals From a Climate Champion


Maddie Hansen and fellow Climate Champion in Goa, India

Maddie Hansen is a sophomore at the College of St Benedict and St John’s University in Minnesota. She is serving as the Sustainability Representative on the St Ben’s Senate and is a member of the Environmental Responsibility Coalition. Maddie is a former Co-Chair of YEA! MN, a joint program of the Will Steger Foundation and Alliance for Sustainability, and a current Will Steger Foundation Climate Champion.


I started the new year off with a with a whirlwind trip to Goa, India, world renowned holiday destination, biodiversity hotspot, and the location of the British Council’s 3rd Annual International Climate Camp. In Goa, I spent one week with 35 Climate Champions from 14 different countries: The U.S., Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Uganda, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Japan. It was an incredible experience I will never forget! I was given this great opportunity by a partnership between the Will Steger Foundation and the British Council.

I left Wednesday January 12th for Los Angles and arrived January 15th in Goa. I spent the night of January 14th in Mumbai. My first experience as a visitor to India was a wild ride through the night. At what seemed like breakneck speeds (I’m now quite sure it was a reasonable pace) we drove through the night-shift traffic of buses, cars, rickshaws, motor bikes, bicycles and pedestrians to stay at Hotel Ramani. Upon arrival at the hotel we were immediately helped to our rooms and bade goodnight. I awoke around 12:30a to the sound of reception returning my passport to me and the arrival of my Slovenian roommate Katarina. Waking up to the sounds of dogs and car horns we went to breakfast in the Irish Pub on the ground floor of the hotel (along with Madness and the Regent Party Hall, the Mahjong Chinese Restaurant was on the first floor). At breakfast we met many of the other champions. After breakfast we took a 30 minute van ride back to the airport to board our plane for Goa. An hour by plane and 25 minutes by bus we finally arrived at the International Centre Goa. After arrival we received a formal introduction to the program and a tour of the International Centre Goa where we saw an impressive recycling and composting centre. We also planted a sapling to commemorate our camp. The rest of the evening was spent at our inauguration ceremony and enjoying wonderful Indian cuisine to the sound of live Goan and Portuguese music.

Day 1:

FlowerAfter a delicious breakfast (all our meals were delicious) we proceeded via coach bus to the Anjune Dam enroute to the WilderNest Nature Reserve. The Anjune Dam provides a reservoir for irrigation uses, but is not a power source. Its construction submerged four villages. At WilderNest we observed the flora and fauna of the Western Ghats and learned about the importance of this region as it is one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world. We learned about the research being conducted at WilderNest and what tools and techniques they use to collect data. Partial funding for the research is supported by eco- tourism in the form of a wilderness resort. On our field trip we encountered a Green Whip snake and a Malibar Pit Viper. After our visit at WilderNest we proceed to the Sesa Goa Sanquelim Mine and Reclamation Site. We listened to Mr. Mahesh Patel on the mining techniques and the reclamation processes enacted. At the location we visited they had a pavilion made entirely of bamboo, an ethnobotanical garden, a pisiculture pond, and a native plant plantation. Many of the Climate Champions including myself are interested in researching further the effects of mining in Goa and how to improve mining practices. Sesa Goa is a subsidiary of Vendata Mining. After our visit to the mine we proceeded back to ICG and attended a workshop on spreading climate awareness through media and music hosted by Chinmaya Dunster. His work is very inspirational.

Day 2:

Yoga was a wonderful way to start off the day! Our first destination for the day was the National Institute of Oceanography where we toured the museum and laboratory. The museum boasted walls and walls of research posters. Dr. Unnikrishnan a member of the IPCC winners of the Noble Prize gave a presentation on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in India. After NIO we travelled to the Goa Science Centre for the grand opening of a cartoon exhibit on climate change arranged by the British Council. The first place prize went to an illustrator from Russia.

After enjoying the gallery we headed to Anjuna Beach to learn about the benthic activity from Dr. Baban Ingole a research scientist from NIO. Dr. Ingole has been studying this area for 25 years. Anjuna is famous as a tourist beach (once home to large hippie gatherings), so it was very interesting to learn about the biodiversity of the location and how pollution is altering it. Always moving forward, we headed next into the city of Panjim for a cruise on the Mandovi River.

Day 3:


Evidence of mining was seen everywhere we went

Evidence of mining was seen everywhere we went (it is the number two industry in Goa, second only to Tourism). On the road to the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Tambdi Surla Temple we waited in traffic with at least 1,000 mining trucks. It was incredible to see such long lines of these oversized trucks. We had a good view too. The road was quite narrow and our bus did not shy away from the trucks. We could have had intimately close conversations with the drivers if the windows on the bus worked. Upon arrival at Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary we were greeted by a park official and given a tour. The first half of our tour began with the identification of regional butterflies. Goa is home to many endemic butterfly species. We also discussed how disturbances and how global warming is altering the way of life of the butterfly. Disturbances, such as clear cutting and human development alter the fauna species of an area changing the habitat of the butterfly. Global warming also alters the ranges of the butterflies. We took a break from trekking at a stream crossing and enjoyed the streams cool water. After playing in the water we continued our hike, this time focusing on the bird and tree species. Unfortunately the timing of our hike was not conducive to bird watching, but we did have the chance to experience the scent of a panther that marked its territory. Before departing Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary we had a chance to visit the Tambli Surla Temple (from the 15th century) to Shiva, a very unique experience. Our next stop was the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary home to the Bondla Zoo. While the zoo was not up to the standards of the Como Zoo, it was still a great opportunity to view the native animals that we would not have a chance to view in their natural setting. We were also able to have a critical discussion with one of the rangers who helped manage the zoo on the condition of the animals and what improvements will be made in the future. After leaving the Bondla zoo we had a bit of free time (an hour and a tidge around dusk) in the city of Panjim to explore. At this point in time, the cat got my tongue and I had a frog in my throat so my exploration was limited to purchasing lozenges and mango juice, but I was able to enjoy the view of this local church.

Day 4:

Lecture and presentation day! The first presentation we enjoyed was that of Godwin Bosco on the biodiversity of the Nigrili Hills, an area infamous for its tea plantations. His photographs were incredible and like nothing I had ever pictured as Indian landscape. The Nigrili environment is very sensitive to varying temperatures and climate change is and will have a profound impact on cold loving species that cannot retreat to higher ground and significant changes in flowering times. Fortunately Godwin is working on documenting the biodiversity of the area as a Climate Champion. Dr. Shashi Kumar Principle Director- Forests then presented on the biodiversity of Goa and the Western Ghats. He also discussed how the melting glaciers will alter the flow of the Ganges thus destroying a way of life for millions (a bit disheartening). He also commented on the forest cover of India (60% of the forests in Goa are protected) and the Prime Minister’s action plan to increase solar energy, enhance energy efficiency, practice sustainable harvesting, conserve water, increase forest cover and sustain the Himalayan ecosystem. He ended his presentation with a quote from Ghandi “the earth has enough resources to meet the needs of the people, but it will never have enough to meet the greed.”

Next up was Champion Mohamed Shinaz Saeed (check out his amazing photography!). He presented on his home, the Maldives, where 80% of the land is less than 1 meter above sea level. The Maldives is a popular tourist destination because of its sheer beauty and wonderful coral reefs. The government is taking steps to make the Maldives one of the first carbon neutral nations so it is not contributing to its own destruction. But, despite these efforts coral bleaching is continuing to affect the reefs. Part of Shinaz’s work is to perform coral surveys to monitor growth and decay.

Some of our other lectures were on the butterflies of Goa presented by author Parag Rangnekar, mangrove rehabilitation in Goa by Dr. Arvid Untawale of the Mangrove Society of India, Crocodiles of the Cumbarjua Canal by Dr. Manoj

Borkar, botany of Goa by MK Janardthan, Ramesh Kumar on monsoons and climate change, and birds of Goa by Ajay Gramopadhye Camp Coordinator. Some of the other champions that presented were Abisheck Acharyya of Naihati, India who is working on providing clean drinking water for a neighboring village, and Sonu Green of Nepal who is documenting climate change from a gendered perspective entitled ‘The Silent Suffers’. Shogo of Sapporo, Japan presented on his project “Whose Earth is it?” which works with NASA using an EarthKam to capture satellite images and compare them satellite images of the past. Misaki of Kobe, Japan shared with us her “3Rs this is it!” campaign at her high school where she recycles used clothing into bags, accessories, and picture books. Every participant had a remarkable and impressive project and I encourage you to visit the British Council website for more project details. I am so motivated and inspired by these wonderful proactive individuals!

For a shift in pace, we visited the Portuguese sector of old Goa for a tour of a traditional Portuguese house. After our tour and a little free time we returned to ICG for dinner and a street play performance. The performers were from the local school and the subject was the importance and cultural significance of the environment to the people of Goa. It was very emotional.

Day 5:


Day 5: Today we traveled by boat!

Today we traveled via boat! We took three boats out to visit the mangroves, crocodiles of the Cambarjua Canal, the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and the Chorao Islands. Dr. Manoj Borekar and Dr. Arvid Untawale accompanied us. Dr. Arvid Untawale worked on rehabilitating the mangroves in the area surrounding the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. We stopped at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary for an up close look at the mangroves from a boardwalk and for an ice cream treat (unfortunately we didn’t see any birds). Dr. Manoj Borekar took my group farther up the Cambarjua Canal where we spotted an 8ft (at least) crocodile resting on the banks. The crocodiles are worshipped by the local native population. These are not the same long snouted crocodiles as those of the Ganges. The crocodiles of the Cambarjua canal can survive in fresh, brackish, and salt water. During our boat tour we encountered many sand boats filled with emigrants from the neighboring state who were collecting sand from the estuary to use in construction. A commonly held belief in the area is that this river bottom sand is the best for use in construction. This sand mining activity is illegal, but incredibly prevalent. It was interesting to hear a Goan perspective on emigration that closely resembles the view of many Americans regarding our border with Mexico. After our exploration of the Chorao Island area we returned to ICG and prepared for our conferences. We were divided into two groups: one to present via teleconference to the British Council headquarters in London and one to present to the British Council Director of West India Sam Harvey at the Goa Science Center. We presented on the work we have been doing on creating a declaration to present to the state government of Goa with observations and suggestions on improving aspects of Goan lifestyle to accommodate climate change action. We also spoke on our individual projects and what aspects of our camp will prove to be the most beneficial towards our future work. After our conferences we went to dinner on the beach in Dona Paula where we enjoyed our last dinner together. A very bittersweet dinner in all senses.

Day 6:

Our last day in Goa. Today was our Closing and Valedictory Session. We presented our final version of the declaration and presented it to the press as well as Director Sam Harvey, Rajana Saikia of TERI, and Shri V K Jha, Secretary of the Environment in Goa. Each of us received a certification of completion. Immediately upon the closing of the ceremony we returned to our rooms packed and left for the airport with hardly a chance to say goodbye. Two days later and 24 hours worth of flights I returned to chilly Minnesota with a desire to pursue climate change action with renewed energy and motivation and the hope of returning to India one day.

Here we are nearly a month later. Today I presented a resolution to ban plastic disposable water bottles on the campus of the College of St. Benedict. The resolution passed unanimously. I am also organizing a delegation to attend Power Shift 2011 in Washington D.C. Power Shift is a gathering of youth who are driven to create improved climate change legislation and green jobs and build a future for our nation that progresses beyond dirty energy usage.


– Maddie


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